As Tru Wilson took the handoff and cut through the teeth of Notre Dame’s defense, Shea Patterson sprinted downfield ahead of his running back. When Wilson approached the end zone, Patterson threw a block on the last remaining defender. Wilson coasted in for a touchdown.
Early in the season, Patterson seemed reluctant to put his body on the line. He was hesitant to keep the ball even on read-options that appeared to be open for a keep. He certainly didn’t block for touchdowns like he did on Saturday or risk an eye-gouging on a quarterback sneak, like last week at Penn State.
But now, Michigan’s senior quarterback is back to his fast and physical ways, and it’s been nothing but a boon to his team.
“I think (the quarterback run) was especially important in this game and something we’d talked about and Shea embrace and he read the ball,” said Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh on Monday. “If both sides know that you’re running, having that quarterback as a potential threat for a runner is key. … I thought it was his fastest game he’s played as a runner and he’s moving around, scrambles. You could tell when he got the block that it was at least a distraction on Tru’s touchdown. He was really moving.”
Some of Patterson’s early hesitance may have been due to an oblique injury sustained in the season opener against Middle Tennessee. Last week, Patterson said that the game in State College was the first time all year he was at 100 percent.
Regardless of whether the early absence of the quarterback run was due to injury, missed reads or something else entirely, there’s no question that aspect of Patterson’s game is back. Against the Nittany Lions and Fighting Irish, he rushed for 41 and 28 sack-adjusted yards, respectively. And on Saturday, in a throwback to last year, Patterson kept the ball on a read-option in the second quarter for a 22-yard gain. The run set the Wolverines up with first-and-goal at the 2-yard line, eventually leading to a touchdown that put Michigan up, 17-0.
“The quarterback run game is a pretty big part of what we do,” said redshirt freshman offensive tackle Jalen Mayfield. “And we missed a couple opportunities early in the season, weren’t able to hold the ball, but (Patterson has) done an unbelievable job of watching that film and picking up on the things he did wrong early in the season. And for him being the big leader that he is in the locker room … just asserting himself like that is gonna be a big part of our success.”
The presence of a dual-threat signal-caller gives the defense another thing to worry about and can confuse opposing teams with looks they haven’t seen. The re-addition of that element of Patterson’s game has opened up the Wolverines’ rushing attack after a few lackluster early-season games. And it’s been beneficial for Patterson, too. As he’s increasingly made the right reads and found success, his confidence has only grown.
“I feel like he’s the best there is,” Wilson said. “He’s the man. But physically, mentally, his confidence is at a high, he’s throwing the ball as good as could be, I thought he threw the ball really well for being as rainy as it was. That’s really bad conditions. So yeah, I think he’s the man and he can do it all.”